20130123

Response from FIRE: a clarification

My previous post on FIRE's video about freedom of association at Vanderbuilt could have been more clear, though that's not to say an increase in clarity would have yielded a correct position.  What I should have made plain was that FIRE's argument against the CLS v. Martinez case obtains for public universities, but that since Vanderbuilt is a private university, it's not so clear that the case is wrong.

I emailed FIRE my post for comment, specifically how their argument (couched in a defense of freedom of association) would apply to a private, rather than public, university.  In response, I was given a group of links to a different argument.  Roughly, the pledge of any university, private or public, to it's students in the mission statements or student information packets, contains an affirmation of the freedoms associated with academia.  The freedom to associate, express views, hold and espouse opinions, in keeping with the principles of free expression generally, are implicitly/explicitly afforded to prospective students in a form that several recent Supreme Court cases regard as contractual.  In this way, even a private university is bound to protect said freedoms on pain of breaking a legal contract with the students.

Now, I'm obviously no attorney, so any examination of the legalese on this is above my pay grade.  However, as a blog author, nothing is beyond the scope of my pen.  So rather than delve into FIRE's contract argument, I'd like to provide a modest reason why all universities should decline the privilege afforded them via the CLS v. Martinez ruling I discussed in my last post.

To my mind, it's not altogether clear that anyone is "harmed" by failing to be invited into one or another student associations.  The fact that a Christian organization refuses admittance to students who do not meet non-academic criteria, eg sexual orientation or gender, doesn't ipso facto rob them of any rights protected under the constitution.  There is no principle of free association that makes sense of giving any individual the freedom to associate with any group that does not wish to associate with that individual.  Indeed, forcing an association to accept a member against it's wishes seems perilously close to failing to protect that association's existing members right to their freedoms.

This failure to protect can manifest in myriad, destructive ways.  It is not unheard of for a larger group to inject itself into a smaller organization in order to distort or dilute a message it does not agree with, essentially "shouting down" an unpopular message by simply overwhelming it from within.  This has been discussed by the Supreme Court previously, as I quoted in the last post on this topic.

There is a lot more bubbling beneath the surface on this issue, as it pertains to the university culture and free expression.  I'll have some more content up soon aimed at some thoughts I've had recently, but until then, feel free(see what I did there?) to visit thefire.org and browse through their articles and videos.

20130105

CLS V. Martinez

  Recently, I've been following and reading a fair number of posts and videos from theFire.org, the website of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. In perusing their video library on Youtube, I found the following video outlining their opposition to the (somewhat) recent Supreme Court case that graces the title of this post (CLS V. Martinez):


  I've also read the Wikipedia entry on the case, and I encourage you to both watch the video (if you haven't already) and read the wiki.

  When I first encountered this decision, my gut reaction was positive.  While the video is well-made, and the SCOTUS decision a close one (5-4), I'm still inclined to stick with my initial impression.  There were a few things I think the video got wrong. What Vanderbuilt is doing is withdrawing access to campus resources for groups that do not conform to the "all comers" policy.  It is not dissolving those groups, "kicking them off campus", or taking any administrative action against the members of those groups.  In this, I think the video overstates the case against the policy, as it's not clear to me that any university is required by law to provide resources to groups whose restrictive policies do not conform to a set of standards the university feels is acceptable.

  The case, to my mind, is a conflict between two fundamental "rights" and the degree to which each should be protected in the context of the other.  The first question is whether an individual has the "right" to join any group, whether or not they agree with the groups aims or meet the group's standards of "belief or conduct".  The second is to what extent student organizations have a "right" to the resources of the university.

  For the first, I think this right is necessarily protected by the university that hosts, e.g. provides aid and comfort to, organizations that would, ostensibly or otherwise, represent the university (even by proxy).  So organizations that utilize the campus facilities, print and publish beneath the university's letterhead, or otherwise conduct business under the university's umbrella of pseudo-sponsorship, fall under the university's responsibility.  In that sense, any individual attending that university as a paying student has, or in my opinion should have, the "right" to join any group they so choose, regardless of whether they agree with the group's overall aims, or meet the group's non-academic standards of entry.  Any organization that discriminates, not just based on status (race or gender), but on "belief or conduct" (religion, sexual preference, ideological or political affiliation), is doing so with the implicit endorsement of the institution that houses it and allows it to represent that institution.

  For the second question, to what extent do student organizations have a "right" to the resources of the university, I think this right is predicated on what sorts of messages the university wants to endorse.  The freedom of assembly guaranteed by the Bill of Rights extends only insofar as the legal contract between citizens and their government.  It does not require that private institutions hold host to, or financially or implicitly support, that assembly.  Universities could in principle cease funding or supporting all student organizations, because while they cannot stop the people from assembly, the do not have to host or support them either.

  So in reality, the second question, to what extent do student organizations have a "right" to the resources of the university, is predicated on the answer to the first question, the right of an individual to associate with any university endorsed student organization.  The university, rather than the student organization, is the entity faced with the choice, and the responsibility, for the practices of the organizations it hosts.

  Much of the criticism of this decision, as you can see from the video (that you all watched, I'm sure), stems from the idea that these organizations have a right(not necessarily a legal right) to retain their ideological "integrity".  One example is a Christian organization's "right" to exclude non-Christians, or a gay-rights group's "right" to exclude those who do not feel gay's should be allowed the right to, say, get married. Other examples would be the Democratic group, or any political group, that risks having it's message tainted by mixed messages from it's members.  These are, of course, valid concerns for any organization, and are why the freedom of assembly is included in the Bill of Rights.

In Roberts v. United States Jaycees, the Supreme Court held that associations may not exclude people for reasons unrelated to the group's expression.  However, in the subsequent decisions of Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, the Court ruled that a group may exclude people from membership if their presence would affect the group's ability to advocate a particular point of view. The government cannot, through the use of anti-discrimination laws, force groups to include a message that they do not wish to convey. (Wikipedia)

  Still, it's not clear that these groups have both a right to assemble in that manner, and the right to the resources of the university, concurrently.  If the Christian organization wishes to exclude based on creed, and the university they attend is uninterested in hosting such behavior, that organization is still free to exercise it's right to assembly even if the university is unwilling to support it.  The same applies to any other type of organization, e.g. a "Male Supremacy" group that is unwilling to allow women to attend.  The group has not lost it's rights guaranteed by the Constitution simply because the university is unwilling to support that group, and thus, in my humble opinion, has no meaningful redress under the Constitution.

  Why is this not just like the freedom to express thoughts and ideas like those other videos you agree with?

I'm glad you asked!  I view the difference in a student's right to express himself or herself on or off campus as protected by the 1st amendment irrespective of his or her status as a student.  The university is not required to support said speech, so Vanderbuilt probably shouldn't be required to provide a platform for speech it doesn't agree with.  Just as they cannot and should not take administrative action against individuals who join or maintain groups whose exlusionary policies do not reflect the institution's position (and thus are not entitled to the institution's support), individuals who express unpopular views should likewise be free from administrative action.  If someone wishes to preach their opinion about the inferiority of black people, or white people, or gays, etc., they are certainly free to do so, but the university is not required to pay for the microphone and lectern from which such a view may emerge.

20120723

What will the will will, and will it will it again.



 The above statement sounds edgy and intuitively true, in addition to the apparent virtue that is seen in "taking responsibility for your choices". However, in a world that is, quite plausibly, causally complete, does it make any sense? To put it another way, in a world without the traditionally conceived human free will, are we any more to "blame" than the weather?

 An incompatabilist who accepts that determinism is true, and in so doing disagrees with the picture at the top, is often given this sort of rebuke: "You're just unhappy with your life-choices and would prefer to believe that the weather in Alaska caused you to do something morally blameworthy." This is a misunderstanding of the position of such a person, but the most obvious response is that the weather in Alaska is no more "responsible" for it's actions, even if it caused yours somehow, than you are for the weather in Alaska, even if you somehow affected it.

 To understand why I think this is so, you have to understand why I don't think we have free will or moral responsibility.

 One of the biggest obstacles to consensus in philosophy is defining what you are talking about in a way that other's can agree with. Free will has had a long, troubled history, and the various definitions debated today testify to the difficulty in really nailing down just what it means. Indeed, a number of you reading this will probably not be satisfied with any definition I might present; yet, tho I despair, I persist.

 My pet definition is one of an incompatibalist bent. I define the term as it appears, as a conjunction of two previously defined words, with their own previously accepted connotations, viz:

Free - Not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.[google]also; - not determined by anything beyond its own nature or being : choosing or capable of choosing for itself [M&W]

Will - The faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action [google]

 At first blush, these definitions appear to justify compatibilism, in that it seems you could retain such freedom even if our minds' operations are explained completely by deterministic physical laws. Many compatibilists view the question along these lines, as decisions which are free from outside coercion. I think they are mistaken, and I think the reason lies in considering the limits of this supposed freedom.

 Let me begin with a story. Sam is minding his own business at home when he finds he wants a snickers bar. Sam, however, is on a diet, and a snickers bar is out of the question if he wants to remain true to his diet. So, despite Sam wanting a snickers bar, he chooses to ignore the urge and stick to the diet. Now, a few questions. Why did Sam want a snickers bar in the first place? Did Sam choose to want a snickers bar? When he declined to get a snickers bar, was he exercising free will by adhering to his dietary regimen? Why did Sam want to go on a diet in the first place?

 Each of these questions has an answer. One can always rationalize post hoc about their reasons for doing or wanting something, but notice that this is precisely like evaluating the reasons for someone else's behavior, or indeed, even an animal's behavior. Why did the dog lie down in that spot, at that moment, rather than another at another moment? Some number of reasons have already occurred to you, but remember, reader, before you jump to respond, that we are talking about a dog. Why would you feel the urge to defend a dog's freedom of will?

 The truth is, our conscious minds are governed by desires we neither author nor control, desires which are indulged only insofar as they do not conflict with other desires, which we likewise neither author nor control. Sam's desire for a snickers bar conflicted with his desire to diet properly, and neither desire was a choice he made consciously. The dog's desire to lie down in the shade conflicted with his desire to remain standing, and neither desire was a choice the dog made consciously. So this freedom, which has such intuitive allure, is only a surface truth; the compatibilists define free will in the context of a surface phenomenon, ignoring the true origin of the will being discussed. I've found several good arguments that run contrary to the definition compatibilists would use. Ask yourself: are you free to do what you do not want to do? and if you do, was it not because you wanted to?

 I define free will as the freedom to will what one wills, rather than the freedom to do as one wills. I am not defining free will out of existence, as might be claimed; I am defining something that doesn't exist. Most compatibilists concur with the traditional notion of free will being an illusion.

 The question of moral responsibility weighs heavily on this topic. If we lack this freedom, how can moral responsibility gain traction? If we are not to blame for our choices, and the weather is equally not to blame, who is to blame for the wrong, and who is to be lauded for the right? Short answer-no one. Moral responsibility, traditionally understood, is an illusion, resting as it is on the illusion of free will. More on this in a future post (otherwise these things would go on forever).

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 For more information about how I formed this opinion, see this video, and read this book. Obviously my influences extend beyond one source, but though my endeavors to disagree with this individual have taken me far afield, I have thus far failed to find a compelling argument against his position, or a stronger argument for another. So, inextricably, I hold this view.

The Pious Have Bills To Pay, Too

Colorado shooting: tragic. I don't know why it occurred, where "blame" should properly lie outside of the lone gunman, or how any of the victims might feel. I tend not to spend much time reveling in the gory details, but Facebook has once again delivered a religious proclamation that makes me despise the religious mindset all over again.

The article that cropped up in my timeline is here, where a local pastor relates the story of a woman whose brain had a "defect" which allowed a piece of a shotgun blast pass through her grey matter, seemingly without any permanent cognitive damage. Said pastor calls this "miraculous" when they hear the tale from the operating doctor. He claims it was an instance of "God working ahead of time for a particular event in the future."

He has received some mild pushback from the skeptical, to which he has constructed a forked approach, first saying, "If we are honest, we must admit we cannot explain everything." Later, he justifies God's non-intervention in the case of the shooter, saying, "We are free to act for good or evil." Why? Because "Choice and freedom are removed if I[God] jury-rig the consequences." He goes on to completely contradict himself when he says, "God interacts in the normal course of events in such a way that outcomes are changed from the normal workings of the universe." This, in and of itself, represents a stark example of self-refutation that (nearly) renders any effort of mine superfluous. However, it's actually even worse.

I will presently argue three basic points:

A) There is no more reason to suppose that God created the miraculous channel in Petra's brain than that he failed to create those same channels in the bodies and heads of the other victims.

B) The very idea of contravening the natural course of events violates the Christian claim that God cannot prevent any of the evil presently in the world.

C) Even if this special case was the work of God, the adulation of God is utterly misplaced in the aftermath of this event.

In defense of A, I would simply point out that to claim we have discerned the "beneficence" of God through sparing one woman's life while dozens fell around her, is to say that good fortune suddenly grants us some special insight that misery denies us. If God's ways truly are mysterious, we are in no position to attribute the outcomes we prefer to God's actions and the outcomes we do not prefer to some void of confusion. If we can, for a moment, admit that we do not know the mind of God, we immediately see that the 6-year-old whose body did not have special bullet channels, for example, is the failure of God's non-intervention. Where was he when this child was formed, and his internal organs were placed directly into the future path of destruction. Busy carving the virgin mary into a tree in New Jersey, apparently.

In defense of B, I will point out an example used by Christian apologist William Lane Craig in support of the consistency between God's existence and the existence of evil. It has been suggested, by his opponents, that God could turn some bullets to rubber, or butterflies, before they hit their target. In this way, choices might retain their moral content, while no innocent has to suffer for this moral freedom. Dr. Craig responds that this would turn the world into a playground, where no bad choices have bad consequences, and thus bad choices would not retain their moral content. If you fire at someone in this playground world, no one would be hurt, so why would firing in such a way, in that world, be a "bad" thing? This pastor's miracle is but one example, but the principle is the same. If he can create one mind with special bullet-channels without stripping us of our freedom or moral responsibility, why can he not create all minds, and bodies, similarly? By Craig's argument, he cannot even do this once without violating creaturely freedom, and so if God modified Petra's brain in such a way, then the concept of creaturely freedom in the Christian context is rendered false. Since said freedom is a necessary component in the Christian religion (i.e. it cannot be false while Christianity is true), this event is either not miraculous, or the Christian God is a fiction.

In defense of C, let's consider what it means for an action to be morally praiseworthy. If a man's actions provide some benefit to someone else, at no cost to himself, we intuitively view this as mildly praiseworthy. Yes, he did something good, but it isn't as though he went out of his way to do anything. The recipient may be thankful, but should anyone else view this as all that morally praiseworthy? I don't think so. Now consider another man whose actions provide some benefit to someone else, and significant cost to himself. We immediately recognize the difference in how much praise each man deserves. The first may give $100 to a charity, yet possesses millions that he does not donate. The second may give the same $100 to a charity, and have to walk to work for a week because that was his gas money. Obviously the cost of an action to the actor is directly proportional to the level of praise we might visit on the actor.

In the wake of this tragedy, we have received (at least)two claims of praiseworthy behavior. In the first, a "good" God who fiddled with some woman's biology in order that she might be spared death at the hands of a gunman. God has sacrificed nothing to do this, his powers, such as they are, remain unaffected, and his person unmolested. In the second, we have a man who shielded his friends from gunfire so that they might be spared death at the hands of a gunman. The second man sacrificed everything that he has and could possibly give in order to save his friends. Now I submit, on C, that while we may, perhaps, lend light praise to God, we might also wonder why he did not do more. In contrast, on C, the men and women who gave their very lives have so far outstripped the pathetic effort of an all-powerful deity in moral terms that to spare even that light praise on God is a complete waste of time.

Of course, if you read the article, you'll notice that the lion's share of the pastor's time is spent extolling the virtues of God, likewise his supportive commenters. True courage, true sacrifice, truly morally praiseworthy action is readily available, and what does this pastor focus on? God. It's almost as if he has a stake in keeping God in the picture; as if, perhaps, he might benefit from highlighting a supposed "miracle" from God rather than the actions of some brave men and women.

This sort of blatant opportunism makes me sick. A church is a business, and this is an instance of capitalizing on tragedy. It is the (socially acceptable) equivalent of slapping a gun advert over a still shot of the carnage.

20120630

The sound that is not made by any two things striking together

 The title of this blog post is the English translation of the word Anahata, known as the Heart Chakra, in Kundalini Yoga, and represented in the picture below. I make only a passing reference to the practice here, but will use the concept of this "sound" as an illustration in the subsequent post.




 We have all felt the urge to defend our views against criticism, or to champion our views to those who do not share them. For any disagreement of consequence, the experience is generally one of confusion and angst, in which what seems so clear to you is utterly unconvincing to your partner(I will explain why I use the term 'partner' later). It feels to you like you are making a cogent case, and therefore it must feel the same way to them. You respond to their case, and their responses, and this appears to be a genuine crossing of swords. Swing, parry, riposte, reset.

 The truth of the matter is that in most disagreements, each party has their back to the other, boldly thrashing against nothing, while only thinking that they are meeting their partner swing for stroke. Assuming you are not dueling a madman (as you should always, out of humility, assume), the first thing that should occur to your mind, is that the sounds you are making at one another are the sounds that are not made by any two ideas striking together. Perhaps a more salient analogy would be that of two individuals attempting to cross swords from atop the peaks of neighboring mountaintops, when a true meeting of swords can only occur within the adjoining valley.

 The mountains of the above analogy refer to all the underlying assumptions that we, as beings who form belief systems about the world, carry into every discussion. This belief formation is completely out of our control, even if we do have free will, because it is based on the information we have available and the level of understanding we possess of the connection between this information and the actual state of the world. These beliefs can only change in response to new information, or a new understanding of how existing information can be understood, not by a simple clash of the ideological overlay on top of these beliefs.

 Now, why do I call two individuals in disagreement 'partners'? The fact is we are all in the business of divining the true nature of our experience as it relates to the true nature of nature. True beliefs, insofar as they have any relationship with the world, enable us to predict future events; the closer our view is to reality, the more accurate those predictions. This is clearly demonstrated in the scientific method, and in the success of the scientific project, and it is uncontroversial. Whenever you engage in disagreement with another person, on any topic, you are both striving towards a better understanding of the true nature of nature, and thus, whether you recognize it or not, you are partners in this pursuit. Try to view disagreements in this light, and you might find your natural predilection to an emotional reaction towards the proponents of a competing view largely attenuated.

 The most transparent manifestation of this concept takes the form of a "loaded question". "Does your mother know you are gay" is the schoolyard version, but it is by no means limited to children. In philosophical terms, it is known as "begging the question". What is operable, under the surface of most disagreements, is the true engine of conflict: presuppositions. When certain facts are assumed, certain other positions are entailed. Yet if two people bring competing assumptions into a discussion, they are inevitably drawn into irreconcilable differences of opinion by virtue of the incompatibility of certain beliefs not even under discussion.
"What we've got here is failure to communicate."
 That's right, boss. This failure is doing immense damage to political discourse in this country, pitting family and friends against one another across an ideological divide that so-called "polite" conversation renders insurmountable. So how do we, as partners, live and breath and communicate in compliment to one another? You descend your mountain and invite them to do the same, that's how. The moment you find yourself in an Anahata discussion, e.g. The God Test: Why Really Everyone Believes, immediately begin considering what your partner is assuming, but which he or she is not openly discussing. Then do the same with your position. Have some humility. What you don't do is attribute to your partner all manner of character or cognitive flaws, or secret malicious motivations, on the basis of their disagreement, because this violates the fundamental trust that lies at the core of social behavior and underpins the basis of civil society.

 This process takes time, hard work, and persistence, and is often mistaken for a desire to simply "argue for argument's sake". There's no guarantee that you will win out, or even find common ground at all, but if you care whether your beliefs are true (and you should), you have a rational duty to engage with your partners.

20120624

Greener Grass (requires better soil)

So I've been working my ponderous way through William James lecture series Pragmatism and found an interesting perspective on the Free Will Problem.  Under the Pragmatism James espouses, questions of a philosophical nature "turn" on their usefulness, either in the asking or in the value of a particular answer to the questioner. On the topic of Free Will, he urges (or appears to be urging from my reading of it) we look upon the question as a function of the possibility of a better future.  I quote him at length to both capture his thoughts as accurately as I can, and because his entertaining prose is worth the extra space.
Free-will pragmatically means NOVELTIES IN THE WORLD, the right to expect that in it's deepest elements as well as in its surface phenomena, the future may not identically repeat and imitate the past. That imitation en masse is there, who can deny? The general 'uniformity of nature' is presupposed by every lesser law. But nature may be only approximately uniform; and persons in whom knowledge of the world's past has bred pessimism(...) may naturally welcome free-will as a MELIORISTIC doctrine. It holds up improvement as at least possible; whereas determinism assures us that our whole notion of possibility is born of human ignorance, and that necessity and impossibility between them rule the destinies of the world.
He goes on to call Free-will a "theory of PROMISE" without "any inner content" or any "pragmatic value in a world whose character was obviously perfect from the start."
Elation at mere existence, pure cosmic emotion and delight, would, it seems to me, quench all interest in those speculations, if the world were nothing but a lubberland of happiness already. Our interest in religious metaphysics arises in the fact that our empirical future feels to us unsafe, and needs some higher guarantee. If the past and present were purely good, who could wish that the future might possibly not resemble them? Who could desire free-will? Who would not say, with Huxley, "let me be wound up every day like a watch, to go right fatally, and I ask no better freedom." 'Freedom' in a world already perfect could only mean freedom to BE WORSE, and who could be so insane as to wish that.
He finishes with the summation:
Surely the only POSSIBILITY that one can rationally claim is the possibility that things may be BETTER.
Being vaguely religious himself, William James equates this underlying promise at the heart of the issue of free will with other religious terms, like God, as empty manifestations of an urge to safeguard(emotionally) a better future for ourselves.

However, it seems to me that this follows a general religious trend to codification of our desires as realities, wholly bereft of any real foundation in reality.  This trend finds ample company in New Age mysticism of all stripes, stemming from the original use of the term 'mind over matter'.  So while I can empathize with this project of, for lack of a better term, hope for the future, I am constrained by temperament to echo Cuba Gooding Jr.'s proclamation to a desperate Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, saying, "Show me the money!"

Free-will, for all it's promise, wants for justification in reality; ignorance, however blissful, is unsustainable*.

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* Ironically enough, I draw this intuition from Matthew 7:26, proving, yet again, that any view can be justified with reference to a biblical passage of your choice (even atheism).  I had to chuckle when I read it, though, because one wonders what a desert tribe would have done with that phrase.  Where are they to build in the desert, if not upon the sand?  Indeed, having visited the middle east on a few occasions, I can testify that not only do they build upon sand, they actually build with sand.

20120612

A Match Made in Heaven?


So I read this blog post, about a gay fella that married a straight woman and is joyously, blissfully, ecstatically enjoying his marriage, and my first thought is: no one enjoys their marriage that much.  Even straight couples will universally testify that marriage is, like any partnership, about compromise.  I've found that the harder one tries to convince you of how great their circumstances are, the less likely it is that they are representing the true state of affairs.

But be that as it may, let's suppose for charity's sake that he really is that happy.

Now we are met with an altogether different question.  If he is gay(and claims to not be bi-sexual), how could he form and enjoy a sexual connection with someone of the opposite gender?  This would be like me marrying another man, despite my lifelong, undeniable physical attraction to women and lifelong, undeniable physical non-attraction to men.**  This consideration actually unpacks into two separate topics.

The first is the religious dynamic of the situation.  The abrahamic faiths, so named for their reliance on the sacred scriptures known as the old testament, are and have been clear about the "ideal type" of marriage and of the limited scope of sin-free sexual relations.  If the book is to be believed, God dictated that men should marry women, should lie with women, under this or that circumstance and (according to some) only in certain positions and for certain reasons.  This individual, Josh Weed, is adhering to these commands as he understands them in a Mormon context.

Right.  A few quibbles...

Suppose, for a moment, that *gasp* the bible is as unreliable on God's intentions as any work of man is unreliable as a function of fallibility.  If we accept a creator of the universe, and consider the possibility that the bible is just an ordinary book (as it most assuredly must be), we can actually discern some potential attitudes of this creator.  God creates most men and women with an inherent physical attraction to the opposite gender, and some men and women with an inherent physical attraction to the same gender.  Can we not safely infer from this fact that he intended for the latter to live by their nature?  Even if we make the narcissistic assumption that the being who fashioned a billion billion billion galaxies, space and time itself, is earnestly concerned with our sex lives, is it that unreasonable to suppose that he, perhaps, made some men and women different for a reason?

What if, in God's eyes, homosexuals engaging in heterosexual "acts" is the sin equivalent to heterosexuals engaging in homosexual "acts"?

The second topic is another thought experiment.  Suppose the Abrahamic faith tradition stipulated an altogether different sin-free union; suppose homosexual unions were the ideal type that God apparently demands.  From that, a culture arises in which heterosexual unions are derided and vilified, heterosexual marriages are outlawed.  Imagine being born into this culture as a heterosexual male.  Would you be willing to marry another man in accordance with your religion, or would you be inexorably drawn to women?

This is a salient question, because as I suspected, the blog post under consideration is not without it's own judge monster.  When I read through it initially, I had a gut feeling that somewhere I would find this monster lurking.  He is religious, he can't help it, and lo and behold, I was right:

"Being gay does not mean you are a sinner or that you are evil. Sin is in action, not in temptation or attraction. I feel this is a very important distinction. This is true for every single person. You don’t get to choose your circumstances, but you do get to choose what you do with them.

I want you to know that God loves you, and that even though you are attracted to people of the same gender, you are a completely legitimate individual, worthy of God’s love, your family’s love, and the love of your friends."(emphasis mine)

Did you catch it?  The urge to engage in homosexual unions is on par with the urge to murder innocent people, steal, purjer, lie, etc..  It's temptation, people, resist the urge to sin!  Drawing on our thought experiment from above, this is the equivalent of God demanding same sex unions.  Let's edit the above quote as follows:

"Being straight does not mean you are a sinner or that you are evil. Sin is in action, not in temptation or attraction. I feel this is a very important distinction. This is true for every single person. You don’t get to choose your circumstances, but you do get to choose what you do with them.

I want you to know that God loves you, and that even though you are attracted to people of the opposite gender, you are a completely legitimate individual, worthy of God’s love, your family’s love, and the love of your friends."(emphasis mine)

Now I submit to you, dear reader, that this edited version of Weed's words is as ludicrous as the original manifestation.  God does not exist, but even if he did, it's beyond the capacity of a rational mind to believe he cares one whit about the circumstances in which you share your body with another person.  Further, it is none of our business what Josh Weed, or any other adult, does with another consenting adult.

That brings me to my final point.  The whole idea that this is some new take on "the issue" of homosexuality is itself fraudulent.  Homosexuality is a sin, according to Weed.  Homosexual unions should be avoided like any other sin, according to Weed.  What, precisely, is new about this position?

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** - There is, I think in all animals, a biological imperative to reproduction.  This imperative may go some distance in explaining Josh's choices, but I think most people would find that their sexual proclivities outweigh any consideration along those lines.  I don't know about you, but if I had to have sex with another man in order to reproduce, I would probably just go childless.